Customer Reviews: The Box Man: A Novel
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on January 1, 2002
a contemporary novel of fragmented identity which examines the ultimate failure of comparisons to beckett are pretty relevant i would say. as with beckett, 'the box man' confronts readers with a real rupture of traditional narrator/reader relationships, and delivers the narrative in such a dispersed manner that you are really left without a cohesive idea of what agency gave you the information you read. the real box man, the fake box man, the real doctor, the fake doctor...all of these are thrown out there for you to sort out. characters begin to refer to ideas or possible actions rather than tangible indentities. in the end, abe tells a story of the contemporary predicament of representation and the psychology of a society in which we increasing interact with representations of things rather than the things themselves. the box man is a man who, saturated with the mediated representations of radio and television, is unable to have normal human interactions with people, he can only look and never be looked at. 'the box man' is an excellent treatment of these very relevant contemporary cultural issues, a frustrating read, but an excellent novel.
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on July 18, 2000
If you like Kafka, Pynchon, Beckett, or Burroughs you will probably like this novel. This is a work that will occupy your mind long after you have finished the last page. Its greatness lies in Abe's keen ability to personify the darkest dreams and innermost desires of modern humanity. The main character, the Box Man, could be anyone. He is merely an anonymous person who yearns for escape from the dehumanizing conditions of modern life. The plot is interesting, alluring, and above all puzzling, without being inaccessible to the average reader. This is a work to be read and reread, and for those who take the time there will be few who are disappointed.
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on June 5, 1999
If you liked Samuel Beckett's book "Watt", then you'll love 'The Box Man'. 'The Box Man' is a psychotic tale of disassociation in a world that echoes that of the medical nightmares in William S. Burrough's 'Blade Runner: A Movie'.
You really don't want to know more about 'The Box Man' at this moment, deciding what is going on is one of the main pleasures of reading the book, Abe's wacked style is another.
I'd never read any of Kobo Abe's work before and found 'The Box Man' fascinatingly disturbed. If you want it weird, get this book. I'm definitely going to read more of his works.
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on December 31, 2012
Really, really difficult to rate The Box Man. Did I love it? No - well not in terms of it leaving you in a joyous state or astounded by the wondrous prose. But it is a remarkable piece - mesmerising, haunting and more than a little frightening. And I can't stop thinking about it (much though I've tried) - and any book that can have that impact deserves five stars - not for `I love it', but because it is extraordinary.

The prose might not be wonderful (noting that Abe was clearly very capable as shown in The Woman in the Dunes) - but there is still much incredible writing. As example - the cold, analytical description of the naked nurse, as seen by the box man through a rear vision mirror held up to the hospital window, captures the contra-seductive and totally counter-erotic feel of this bizarre scene. The disjointed, Dadaist style leads you on a confusing, almost delirious journey between the box man, the fake box man, yet another maybe fake box man, the real doctor and the fake doctor. Was there a murder (or assisted suicide) or was it all just a dream? Just who is the narrator? I think the pieces fall into place, but who can be sure?

Hard to imagine a box man life evolving in any other culture outside of Japan - and it is a tribute to Japanese literature that such a theme can be embraced as real/valid and a tribute to Kobo Abe for turning it into a masterpiece.

This is a difficult piece of writing (and reading!) and I expect many will not enjoy it - but try looking beyond `enjoy' and I think you will find this read intriguing.
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on June 10, 2007
I picked this up on a whim at the library and read the back:

"...the nameless protagonist gives up his identity and the trappings of a normal life to live in a large cardboard box he wears over his head."

I thought that sounded like an intriguing concept and have enjoyed other works by Abe in the past and his Kafka-esque sense of reality so I took it out.

I was quite disappointed once I finished it. I did not enjoy reading The Box Man and struggled to finish it.

There are things I liked about it - the concept is intriguing, the intricate narrative structure, and I liked the mystery of just who the Box Man is. It is also quite original but that alone doesn't make it a good book. The Box Man simply isn't a pleasure to read, the story and the characters are about as compelling as watching grass grow, it's overwritten, pretentious, boring, and at less than 200 pages, too long. I also think that Abe explores the nature of identity much better in his other books, particularly The Ruined Map: A Novel. Here it just seems forced and muddled.

If you're going to read Abe, I recommend the aforementioned Ruined Map or The Woman in the Dunes over this.
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on March 2, 2011
I had to read The Box Man for my Japanese Culture class. I can honestly say it was one of the most powerful novels I've ever read. Abe takes you into a fantastical story in which the very pilars of human behavior are challenged to the utmost. It is just as ontologically significant as novel like Notes from Underground by Dostoevsky, or The Methamorphosis by Kafka. After reading some more of his work, I cannot believe Kobo Abe never received a Nobel Prize, but oh well, at least he was nominated several times. :)
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on April 7, 2014
"This is the record of a box man. I am beginning this account in a box. A cardboard box that reaches just to my hips when I put it over my head." The unnamed narrator goes on to describe how to become a box man. A box man lives an anonymous life on the streets, never leaving his box, scavenging for food, viewing the world through a narrow slit, and ignored by everyone.

The Box Man seems at first to be a commentary on the alienation of the individual in modern urban society. But then things get more complex and confusing. There is a false box man, who may also be a doctor, but may just be posing as a doctor. There is a nurse who isn't really a nurse. There is a dead box man, washed up drowned on the shore, who may be the narrator, or he may be the doctor, or the doctor whom the doctor is pretending to be. Many or all of the chapters may simply be dreams. The entire story may be a portrait of a mind deranged by a childhood trauma involving voyeurism and urination (interestingly two of the more pervasive elements in Finnegans Wake as well).

At times the novel is overtly metafictional, such as when one of the characters upbraids the narrator, saying he can't possibly have written the manuscript we are reading in the place and time he says he has written it. There are also several photographs in the books with captions that seem to have nothing to do with the pictures. There are inserted affidavits by other (maybe?) narrators. And for a novel in which nothing sexual actually takes place, there are some intensely erotic passages.

So what is one to make of this book? A social message on the repression of individualism? A psychological study of guilt and alienation? A literary thesis on the author (or reader) as voyeur? It may be all of these, and more. The Box Man is easy to read, but difficult to fathom.
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on July 2, 2014
I have a certain sympathy with those who gave this 1 or 2 stars. The stories told to us as narration or written notes are not very compelling and yet the novel is. I do not find the book Kafkaesque, but indisputably influenced by Beckett. Abe manages to create a much more interesting space than Beckett ever did, the Box, but the questions of identity, self, other, language, and reality are better addressed by Beckett than Abe here. But Abe succeeds in creating a strange enigmatic antinovel which is well worth reading, and I personally intend to reread it. If this were a novel, and not an antinovel I might give it 3 stars, but for what it is, I believe it merits 5. So far the 1 and 2 star reviews seem to me to be excellent and I would suggest reading them for a strong different take. On the other hand reading a couple of the 5 star reviews will give you a good idea of why I give it 5.
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on July 17, 2015
I understand that this book is a first edition, but I do not consider the condition to be 'very good'. The cover is quite worn at the top and bottom and there is a tear on the back near the spine. The glue from a sticker is also visible on the front cover. There are also some molding/mildew stains on inside jacket as well as pages.
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on September 1, 2006
Having put off reading this book until I moved back to Tokyo I'd say the box man mentality fits nicely with foreigners trying to understand Japan. Someone first descibed living in Tokyo to me like floating in a warm bubble. Unless you speak the language or fit in culturally you'll always be a casual observer. The longer you stay in that bubble the more distorted your view becomes. For those on the fringes of Japanese society it's easy to see how one might simply want to stick a box on their head and call it a day.

Aside from the obvious Japanese angle on things Abe weaves a nice commentary on communication in general. Mary M. Watkins' "Invisible Guests" treads a similar path by examining how we construct imaginary personas. Over time what we imagine and what we experience blend into the same thing. Part of the appeal in reading The Box Man is that we're dumped right into the main character(s) head and it's left up to us to figure how many people and scenarios are actually "real". For all we know the whole thing might be in the box man's head - or not. The uncertainty when reading it can be rather disorienting. Anyone who reads it is ultimately a box man themselves; a passive observer just trying to digest some weirdness. His reality is in now your head whether you like it or not.
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